Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Matron in the train station

Saw an older woman handing out Watchtower tracts at the T this morning. I bet that work gives her a sense of purpose, and of dignity through purpose. And it's nice to know that she has a reason to be out of the house. Still, I'd much rather see her stumping for an ideology that didn't reject science, reject modernity, and demand impossible beliefs from the people interested in belonging to that community.

What kind of an ideology might that be? Well, it'd have to be a big one, else it wouldn't attract commitment and motivate behavior. But so many big ideas are also dangerous ideas. Radical fellowship opens the door to disfellowshipping; community belonging opens the door to shunning; values-based leadership opens the door to coercion, authoritarianism, and abuse.

Some days I'm such an optimist that I feel it wouldn't be such a difficult thing to articulate such an ideology, and stitch up a workable community structure around it, and release it into the wild. Then I think about the observable scarcity of such communities where benign values-in-action have resulted in flourishing and stable social situations, and I tuck my optimism back in my pocket and recommit to a more humble set of ambitions.

"It's easier to fool people than to convince them they have been fooled," Mark Twain wrote. (Or no, he didn't, but I will tell you that he didn't and you won't believe me.)

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Orwell on socialist sex maniacs

Ah, YouTube. This morning it brought me to an unaired clip from the British panel show QI, in which the inestimable and inimitable Stephen Fry quotes from George Orwell's The Road to Wigan Pier (1936):
"'Socialism draws towards it with magnetic force every fruit juice drinker, nudist, sandal wearer, sex maniac, Quaker, nature-cure quack, pacifist and feminist in England.' [Orwell] also talks about 'vegetarians with wilting beards', 'outer suburban creeping Jesus' eager to begin yoga exercises,' and 'that dreary tribe of high-minded women and sandal wearers and bearded fruit juice drinkers who come flocking toward the smell of progress like bluebottles to a dead cat.'" [transcript]
I wonder what justice there is in Orwell's cranky depiction of figures we probably all recognize through the distortions of his caricature. There is an n-dimension graph whose axes represent openness toward or rejection of different conceptual possibilities -- spirituality, personal perfectability, political perfectability, and so on -- and in this graph space, we should be able to identify the overlapping domains of "socialism", "individualism", "bohemianism", "veganism", and so on. Would the result be a disordered pell-mell without order? Or would some kind of informative structure emerge, to tell us about the people who reject theism but embrace socialism, who embrace fascism but reject spiritualism, and so on? Where will we find the bluebottle types, or the skeptics, or the Eric Blairs? What if these each turn out to be categorical cousins, to no one's greater surprise than their own?